Republican hopefuls diverge on immigration, Iran policies

Gingrich, Romney clash on amnesty in debate

Surging in Republican presidential primary polls, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used Tuesday night’s national security debate in Washington to argue for a potential strike on Iran, a broader Patriot Act and the granting of legal status to many illegals in the U.S. as a way to regain control of the immigration system.

“I’m prepared to take the heat,” Mr. Gingrich said as he defended an immigration plan that would allow those here illegally but who have families or have put down roots get a limited legal status to remain and work in the U.S.

That drew strong fire from others in the field, who said legalization would act as a magnet to encourage future illegal immigration and undermine efforts to secure the border.

“I’m not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who gets to go,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “The principle is that we’re not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.”

The eight candidates who squared off at DAR Constitution Hall just blocks from the White House all said President Obama is failing to combat key national security threats in Iran and Pakistan. But the two-hour debate, aired by CNN, also exposed deep divisions within the field over how to best change the Obama foreign policy.

During his three years in office, Mr. Obama has committed to winding down the war in Iraq, boosted and then began to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and joined NATO’s war that helped topple longtime Libyan strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Along the way, the president also ordered the strike that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan — a move that strained relations with that nation.

Mr. Gingrich said the attack should have strained relations, because it showed Pakistan was failing to fight terrorism.

“Don’t complain if we kill people you’re not willing to go after,” he said.

But Rep. Michele Bachmann, a member of the House intelligence committee, said relations with Pakistan are more complex, and she shot down the argument of fellow candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry that foreign aid should be cut off, calling that “highly naive.”

“We need to demand more. The money that we are sending right now is primarily intelligence money to Pakistan. It is helping the United States,” the Minnesota lawmaker said.

For his part, Mr. Perry said he would impose a no-fly zone over Syria to help those protesting the government there, and called on Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to resign in protest over looming defense spending cuts.

Representing the other side of the spectrum, Rep. Ron Paul pleaded for a more modest foreign policy that he said would stop antagonizing other countries and would make the U.S. less of a target.

“Why don’t we mind our own business?” he said.

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